Monday, October 26, 2015

Meta-Ethics Notes

Meta-ethics notes for guest talk today. See below the fold.

Moral Realism


Moral Anti-Realism (or Irrealism)

Moral Anti-Realisms:
-         Moral judgments are neither true nor false. (emotivisms; prescriptivism), or
-         (Positive) Moral judgments are false, because there are no moral facts or properties to make them true. (error theory; fictionalism)

Moral Realisms:
-         Some moral judgments are true.
o   Naturalism: Judgements are made true by “natural” facts. Moral properties are “natural” properties: an ethical science.
o   Non-naturalism: Moral properties are “non-natural” properties: no ethical science without an ethical intuition.

Meta-ethics: philosophical inquiry about the nature of moral or ethical judgments (more below). 
But what is ethics or morality?

Ethics (or Morality):
-         Actions being morally wrong, not wrong (permissible), obligatory:
o   Example: “The police killing innocent people is wrong.”
-         “Status of Affairs” being good or bad:
o   Examples: “Pleasure is good.”
-         People being good and bad (virtuous and vicious);
o   Examples: “Being kind and compassionate is virtuous.”
-         Societies being just or unjust; decisions fair or unfair.
o   Examples: “Preventing adults from voting is unjust and unfair.”


  • Are any of these claims true
  • If a claim is true, that is usually because of facts that make it true. Alternative, a claim is true because of properties: e.g., it is true that 'the table is made of wood' because the table has the property 'being made of wood,' or this is a fact. 
  • So what would a moral facts be? What would moral properties be?
  • What kind of facts would moral facts be? What kind of properties are moral properties?

Meta-ethics: philosophical inquiry about the nature of moral judgments:
-         Philosophy of Language and Ethics:
o   Is the claim true or false? Neither true nor false?
-         Philosophy of Mind and Ethics:
o   Is the state of mind belief or/and desire?
-         Metaphysics and Ethics:
o   Are there moral facts? Moral truth-makers?
-         Epistemology and Ethics:
o   Is there moral knowledge? Reasonable or rational moral beliefs (?)?

Some motivations from Hume:

Take any action allow’d to be vicious: Wilful murder, for instance. Examine it in all lights, and see if you can find that matter of fact, or real existence, which you call vice. In which-ever way you take it, you find only certain passions, motives, volitions and thoughts. There is no other matter of fact in the case. The vice entirely escapes you, as long as you consider the object. You never can find it, till you turn your reflexion into your own breast, and find a sentiment of disapprobation, which arises in you, towards this action. Here is a matter of fact; but ’tis the object of feeling, not of reason. It lies in yourself, not in the object. So that when you pronounce any action or character to be vicious, you mean nothing, but that from the constitution of your nature you have a feeling or sentiment of blame from the contemplation of it. Vice and virtue, therefore, may be compar’d to sounds, colours, heat and cold, which, according to modern philosophy, are not qualities in objects, but perceptions in the mind

AJ Ayer, an emotivist:
-         Motivating concern: logical positivism.
-         1. A judgments is meaningful (true or false) only if it is either analytic or empirically verifiable.
-         2. Moral judgments are neither analytic nor empirically verifiable.
-         3. Therefore, moral judgments are not meaningful, are neither true nor false.
Objections to realisms:
o   naturalism and open question argument, following Moore:  “This action produces the most pleasure, but is it a moral obligation?” Meanings are different, so different properties??   
o   non-naturalism and epistemological puzzlement. “Pleasure is good???”

Charles Stevenson, an emotivist:
-         Motivating concerns:
o   The “magnetism” of moral judgments.
-         4. Moral judgments are necessarily motivating.
-         5. Any ‘judgement’ that necessarily motivates is not a belief. (Desires motivate, beliefs do not).
-         6. Therefore, moral judgments are not beliefs.

o   Metaphysical puzzlement:
§  What would a moral fact be like? How could something make an action wrong?

RM Hare, a “universal prescriptivist”:
-         Motivating concerns:
o   Motivational Internalism: (See Stevenson).
o   Objections to realisms:
·        naturalism and open question argument;
·        non-naturalism and epistemological puzzlement.
§  Yet, thought that there are “rational” constraints on moral judgments.

JL Mackie, an “error theorist,” meaning, all (positive) moral judgments are false:
-         Motivating concerns:
o   The “queerness” of moral judgments: “motivational internalism”, again. (See Stevenson)
§  Moral disagreements.
7. There is widespread disagreement about whether various actions are wrong or not: there is moral disagreement.
8. The best explanation of this disagreement implies that there are no moral facts.
(If there were moral facts, then there would be less disagreement, because more people would see these facts).
9.    Therefore, there are likely no moral facts.

-         Gilbert Harman (called himself a relativist; seems like his concern better supports an error theory):
o   Motivating concerns:
§  Moral Disagreements.
§  “Moral Explanations:
10. We should believe that a property exists only if it helps us explain observable phenomena.
11. Moral properties don’t help explain observable phenomena.

Ex. Was slavery eventually widely opposed because of its injustice or moral wrongness, or can we explain why people opposed slavery without positing moral properties (e.g., they opposed it just because of their beliefs and attitudes..)?

12. Therefore, we should not believe that moral properties exist

Those were some arguments for anti-realisms. 

Here are some other arguments on the issues:

1. If epistemic or intellectual realisms are true, then moral realisms are true. (E.g., if claims about what you should believe, that you should have evidence for your beliefs, that some beliefs shouldn't be accepted, etc.), then moral claims are true also: why not?!).
2. Epistemic or intellectual realisms are true.
3. Therefore, moral realisms are true.


1. If moral realisms are false (for these reasons A, B, C, and D), then epistemic realisms are false too (for these reasons A, B, C, and D). (E.g., if claims about what you morally should do are false, then claims about how you epistemically ought to believe, how you should reason, etc. are false).
2. But epistemic realisms are not false. (And how could it be that you should believe that such should-claims are false?!)
3. So moral realisms are not false (for these reasons A, B, C, and D).

The above was Dr. Nobis's doctoral dissertation, in 2004.

Many people accept, at least implicitly, what I call the asymmetry claim: the view that moral realism is more defensible than aesthetic realism. This article challenges the asymmetry claim. I argue that it is surprisingly hard to find points of contrast between the two domains that could justify their very different treatment with respect to realism. I consider five potentially promising ways to do this, and I argue that all of them fail. If I am right, those who accept the asymmetry claim have a significant burden of proof.

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